Wanda Beach Murders
|Date||11 January 1965|
|Location||Wanda Beach near Cronulla, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia|
|Type||Murder x 2|
|Outcome||Unsolved cold case|
The Wanda Beach Murders, sometimes referred to simply as "Wanda", are the case of the unsolved murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach near Cronulla in Sydney, Australia, on 11 January 1965. The victims, both aged 15, were best friends and neighbours from the suburb of West Ryde, and their partially buried bodies were discovered the next day. The brutal nature of the slayings and the fact that they occurred on a deserted, windswept beach brought massive publicity to the case. By April 1966, police had interviewed some 7,000 people, making it the largest investigation in Australian history. It remains one of the most infamous unsolved Australian murder cases of the 1960s, and New South Wales' oldest unsolved homicide case.
Marianne Schmidt had arrived in Melbourne with her family from West Germany in September 1958. At the time, the Schmidt family consisted of parents Helmut and Elisabeth and her siblings, Helmut Jr., Hans, Peter, Trixie, and Wolfgang. Another child, Norbert, was born the following year. After arriving in Australia, the Schmidt family lived in a migrant hostel in Unanderra, New South Wales, before settling in Temora. In 1963, Helmut Schmidt moved the family to Sydney after contracting Hodgkin's disease and they found a home in West Ryde. In June the next year, Mr Schmidt died.
Schmidt's next-door neighbour was Christine Sharrock, who lived with her grandparents Jim and Jeanette Taig. Sharrock's father died in 1953 and her mother Beryl remarried and was living in the north-western Sydney suburb of Seven Hills. Sharrock moved in with her grandparents by choice and when the Schmidts arrived next-door, she developed a strong friendship with Marianne, who was the same age. It has never been revealed as to why Sharrock decided it was best for her to live with her grandparents and not her mother and stepfather.
On 1 January 1965, Sharrock and Schmidt visited the beach at Cronulla, which had been a popular picnic spot for the Schmidt family. Diary entries, read after the murders, indicated that the girls had kissed some boys at the beach this day. The following day, the Schmidt children visited the beach there again without Sharrock. Meanwhile, Mrs Schmidt had been admitted to a hospital for a major operation, leaving Helmut Jr. and Marianne in charge of the household. On Saturday 9 January, Schmidt and Sharrock asked Mrs Schmidt (who was still hospitalised) if they could take the younger children to Cronulla the next day and were given permission; however, rain prevented the trip.
On Monday, 11 January, accompanied by Schmidt's four youngest siblings, the girls again set off by train for Cronulla railway station after transferring at Redfern. They arrived at about 11:00 am, but it was very windy and the beach was closed. The group then walked down to the southern end of the beach and sheltered among the rocks. Eight-year-old Wolfgang still wanted to swim, so Schmidt went with him to a shallow part of the surf away from the rocks. After they returned to the group, they had a picnic. At some point during this time, Sharrock left the others and went off by herself.
When Sharrock returned to the group, they decided to go for a walk into the sand-hills behind Wanda Beach. Around 1:00 pm, the group had reached a point around 400 metres (1,300 ft) beyond the Wanda Surf Club, and they stopped to take shelter behind a sand-hill as the younger children were complaining about the conditions. Schmidt told her younger siblings that she and Sharrock would return to the rocky area at the south end of the beach where they had hidden their bags, then return to fetch the children and head home. Instead, however, the girls continued into the sand-hills. When Peter told them they were going the wrong way, they laughed at him and walked on. The Schmidt children remained waiting behind the sand-hill until 5:00 pm, at which time they returned to collect their bags (including Sharrock and Schmidt's purses) and went home on the last train, arriving home around 8:00 pm. The girls were reported missing at 8:30 pm by Sharrock's grandmother.
The next morning, on Tuesday, 12 January, Peter Smith was taking three young nephews for a walk through the Wanda Beach sand-hills. Some distance north of the surf club, he discovered what appeared to be a store mannequin buried face-down in the sand. He brushed away sand from the head and realised that it was a body, and the police were called from the nearby surf club. At this point, Smith believed he had found only one young woman.
When the scene was examined, Schmidt was found lying on her right side with her left leg bent. Sharrock was face down, her head against the sole of Schmidt's left foot. Both had scratch marks on their faces. From a 34-metre (112 ft) long drag mark leading to the scene, police determined that Sharrock had fled, possibly while Schmidt was dying, only to have been caught, incapacitated, and dragged back to the body of her friend. An intensive search was undertaken to find the murder weapons, a long knife and some sort of blunt instrument, but they were never found. Tonnes of sand from around the murder scene were sifted through and various items were found, including a blood-stained knife blade, but police were unable to link it to the murders.
The autopsy for Sharrock found a BAC of 0.015, but alcohol was not found in Schmidt's autopsy. It was also discovered that Sharrock had consumed food (cabbage and celery – i.e. possibly a Chiko Roll) that was different from the rest of the party; it is suspected this occurred while she was alone. Sharrock's skull had been fractured by a blow to the back of the head and she had been stabbed 14 times. Schmidt's throat had been deeply slashed and she had been stabbed 6 times. Their underwear had been cut, and attempts had been made to rape both girls. Semen was found on both girls but the autopsy showed that their hymens were intact. Schmidt's brother Hans had viewed photos of her body and said, "She'd been stabbed 25 to 30 times. She'd almost been decapitated because her throat had been cut so viciously."
It was also during Sharrock's absence that Wolfgang noticed a teenage boy hunting crabs. Later, he claimed to have seen the same boy twice more, once in the company of his sister and Sharrock and again sometime much later walking alone. There has been doubt about his description of this person, as Wolfgang's testimony over time variously suggested he had a homemade speargun, a fishing knife, or both. The last official sighting of Schmidt and Sharrock was around 12:45 by local fireman Dennis Dostine, who was walking in the area with his son and saw the girls walking about 730 metres (2,400 ft) north of the surf club. He told police that they seemed to be hurrying, and one of the girls often looked behind her as if they were being followed. Dostine did not see anybody else. There had been a number of people seen in the area who were never identified and never came forward.
The funerals were held on 20 January, and an A£10,000 reward was posted in February (later converted to A$20,000 in 1966), which stood unchanged as of August 2002[update]. In April 1966, the coroner handed down his report, by which time police had interviewed some 7,000 people, making it the largest investigation in Australian history. Despite this, the crime quickly became a cold case, and none of the three main suspects (see next section) fit the description of the surfer youth who has never been identified. The case was reopened in 2000, and in February 2012, the NSW Police's Cold Case Unit announced that a weak male DNA sample had been extracted from a pair of white shorts worn by Sharrock. While admitting that current technology was unable to provide more information, police were confident that future advances would give more assistance. In July 2014, police said that a semen sample taken from Schmidt's body had been lost and could not be located despite an extensive search.
Cec Johnson, a former detective who had investigated the murders, was given a painting in 1975 by Alan Bassett. Bassett had been jailed for murdering Carolyn Orphin, a 19-year-old woman, in June 1966, who was attacked, raped, strangled, then had her skull crushed with a rock. Sent to prison for life, he served 29 years before being released in 1995. The painting, titled "A Bloody Awful Thing" showed an abstract landscape. Johnson believed the painting showed blood trails, a broken knife blade and the body of a victim, and became convinced that Bassett was the Wanda Beach killer. Johnson also became convinced that it showed a scene from the murders that only the killer would know, as well as clues to the also-unsolved murders of Kruger and Dowlingkoa (see below). Despite the scepticism of other detectives, Johnson wrote a book about the case. Before it could be published, however, he was killed in an accident. Other detectives, while retaining professional respect for Johnson, concluded that he was wrong in his belief.
One person Johnson convinced, however, was Daily Mirror crime reporter Bill Jenkings. Jenkings repeated Johnson's claims in his ghostwritten memoirs, As Crime Goes By, devoting a whole chapter to the Wanda Beach murders. Most of the chapter was essentially a repeat of what he had written in his earlier book, Crime Reporter, but he mentioned Johnson, Bassett and the painting as well. Bassett commenced proceedings for defamation in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which he was entitled to do after the attainder rule was abolished by the Felons Act 1981 (NSW), although, given his history of mental illness, the proceedings were commenced by the Protective Commissioner as his tutor. After a ruling on the form and capacity of the imputations (Bassett v Ironbark Press, Levine J, 14 October 1994), the publisher pleaded defences of justification (Bassett being a convicted murderer) and the proceedings never went further. Since his release, Bassett has voluntarily given a DNA sample to clear his name, but whether or not he has been eliminated as a suspect by DNA has yet to be publicised.
A second suspect is Christopher Wilder. Two years prior to the Wanda Beach murders, he had been convicted of a gang-rape on a Sydney beach which led police to include him as a suspect. Wilder emigrated to the United States in 1969, where he embarked on a series of serial killings in the early 1980s. While visiting his parents in Australia in 1982, Wilder was charged with sexual offenses against two 15-year-old girls whom he had forced to pose nude. Wilder fled back to the US, and in the first half of 1984, he committed eight murders and attempted several more. He accidentally killed himself during a struggle with police in New Hampshire on 13 April 1984.
A third suspect, not well publicised until 1998, is Derek Percy, who had been imprisoned since 1969 for the murder of a child on a beach in Victoria. Percy was considered too dangerous to be released and is the prime suspect for a number of other murders of children in Melbourne and Sydney, and died in 2013 from cancer. He was considered a leading suspect for the Wanda Beach murders by the police. While Percy can be linked to the location on the date of the murders, there were no other links found. It was hoped he would make confessions on his deathbed, but these never came.
Two far less well known murders also occurred during early 1966 (in the days following the nationally publicised disappearance of the Beaumont children) which, police at the time speculated, might have been connected to the Wanda Beach killer.
- On Saturday, 29 January 1966, a 56-year old cleaning lady named Wilhelmina Kruger was killed in the Piccadilly Centre, on Crown Street in Wollongong. Her bloodied body was discovered around 5:45 am at the foot of the basement-level stairs by a butcher who had arrived for work. Having been first assaulted three floors above, probably around 4:30 am, she had been brutally dragged down the escalators and stairs. She was then strangled, stabbed, mutilated, and was found naked from the chest down. Police also found cigarette burns in her clothing, and blond hair was found at the scene. In the time prior to the murder, Kruger had become nervous that someone was watching her, and had been driven to work by her partner. Similarly, the lights in the car-park within the Centre had shown recent signs of tampering, and had been tampered with again on the morning of the murder. Considered one of the most brutal attacks in the history of the state, the case remains unsolved. Police believed that the murder might have been the work of the Wanda Beach killer, but would not say why.
- Around midnight on Wednesday, 16 February 1966, a 27-year old shop assistant and prostitute from Bondi named Anna Toskayoa Dowlingkoa went missing after leaving a nightclub in Kings Cross. Ten days later, at around 5:30 pm on 26 February, her semi-naked, strangled, stabbed, and mutilated body was found by a truck driver, who had stopped at the side of Old Illawarra Road in Menai to change a tyre. Most of her clothes and belongings were missing, and drag evidence showed that her body had been moved to a more visible location around 3–4 days prior to discovery. Police immediately linked her brutal "Jack the Ripper-like murder" with that of Kruger, and investigators from that crime were called in to assist. They believed that the murder might have been the work of the Wanda Beach killer, primarily based on circumstantial evidence and MO similarities.
The murders were the focus of an episode of Crime Investigation Australia, entitled "The Wanda Beach Murders/Beaumont Children Mystery". A book, Wanda: The Untold Story of the Wanda Beach Murders by Alan J. Whiticker was published in January 2003. It was also the topic of a January 2016 Casefile True Crime podcast, with the linked cases receiving a stand-alone episode in January 2018.
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- Whiticker, Alan J. (2003). Wanda: The Untold Story of the Wanda Beach Murders. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-86436-814-7.